Preminger provides hands-on direction in ‘Angel Face’

Angel Face/1952/RKO Radio Pictures/91 min.

Angel Face posterWho in his right mind would bitch-slap an angel? Well, in film-noir, no one is really in his right mind and in “Angel Face” Diane Tremayne (Jean Simmons) isn’t quite what you’d call a cherub.

No, her heavenly exterior (spoiled but stunningly gorgeous rich girl) masks a demonic core (cold-blooded killer). So when hysterical Diane takes a smack from her beloved Frank Jessup (Robert Mitchum) she hits him right back.

That’s cool for the characters, but I wonder what excuse director/producer Otto Preminger had? When filming the scene, Preminger insisted on repeated takes of Mitchum slapping Simmons.

Fed up, Mitchum slapped Preminger, asking, “Is that how you want it?”

Preminger retaliated by trying to fire Mitchum, but Howard Hughes, the real power behind the movie, refused. Hughes wanted Mitchum and Simmons. He wanted Simmons off-screen as well and made a pest of himself trying to seduce her, no matter that she was married to Stewart Granger.

With Preminger and Hughes harassing her, Simmons was lucky to have Mitchum around to stick up for her – you might even say he was her guardian angel. Maybe Preminger couldn’t handle the pressure; for contractual reasons, the whole film was shot in about 18 days.

The movie was knocked by critics upon its release, but was later ranked by the great French director Jean-Luc Godard as one of the 10 Best American Films of the Sound Era. It’s worth watching on that basis alone. Oh, and then there’s 90 minutes of looking at Mitchum. Mmmm. It’s worth watching on that basis alone.

Spoiled rich girl Diane (Jean Simmons) wants Frank (Robert Mitchum) all to herself. So there.

Spoiled rich girl Diane (Jean Simmons) wants Frank (Robert Mitchum) all to herself. So there.

Here’s the setup: Responding to a medical emergency at the Tremayne home, ambulance driver Frank meets a strange little family, with skeletons aplenty: Diane and her Daddy (Herbert Marshall) enjoy loafing around their roomy mansion and do their best to avoid Dad’s stick-in-the-mud second wife Catherine Tremayne (Barbara O’Neil, who was also Scarlett’s mom in “Gone With The Wind”).

Diane gloms onto Frank, even though he has a girlfriend, the virtuous, slightly bland and aptly named Mary Wilton (Mona Freeman). Frank’s basically a good guy but loyalty isn’t his strong suit. Learning that his dream is to open a garage, Diane convinces her folks to hire him as the family chauffeur; she tells Frank that her indulgent parents might just throw some start-up cash his way.

But when Mumsy suddenly starts getting stingy, Diane decides to arrange a tragic car “accident” for the stuffy Mrs. Moneybags. What could go wrong? Well, Daddy could also get in the car (he does). And Diane and Frank could wind up getting charged with murder (they do).

Diane and her Daddy (Herbert Marshall) enjoy loafing around their roomy mansion. Dad’s second wife Catherine (Barbara O’Neil) foots the bill.

Diane and her Daddy (Herbert Marshall) enjoy loafing around their roomy mansion. Dad’s second wife Catherine (Barbara O’Neil) foots the bill.

Diane doesn’t sweat it, though. She can afford a pricey, clever lawyer Fred Barrett (Leon Ames). Thanks to his legal maneuvering and the legal ineptitude of District Attorney Judson (Jim Backus, yep, that’s Thurston Howell III, aka Mr. Magoo), she and Frank are acquitted.

They’re free, but Frank’s not about to stick around, even though he knows firsthand that Diane has a knack for causing fatal accidents and that she has a way of getting all “If I can’t have him, nobody else can either” about things …

“Angel Face” is not a definitive noir. The camera work and lighting don’t contribute to a sense of doom or create a mood of suspense. There’s far too much sunshine and fresh air here. Dimitri Tiomkin’s romantic music lends lightness as well.

None of that should diminish its standing, however. This quirky flick – which owes a debt to “The Postman Always Rings Twice” (1946) as well as 1945’s “Leave Her to Heaven” and “Fallen Angel,” which Preminger also produced and directed – has flashes of original brilliance: a splendid cast; perfectly symmetrical story structure; an unhurried pace. Frank Nugent, Oscar Millard and an uncredited Ben Hecht wrote the script from a Chester Erskine story.

“Angel Face” shows how noir flexed and began to reinvent itself in the ’50s, reacting less to post-war malaise and more to the conformity and quiet corruption of the 1950s. Note all the references to the power, temptation and ultimate taint of money. Nearly everyone becomes a victim of greed.

The trial scenes, with Preminger’s trademark long takes, prefigure his courtroom drama masterwork, “Anatomy of a Murder” (1959) starring James Stewart, George C. Scott and Lee Remick.

Mitchum is, gloriously, Mitchum. And Simmons makes an unforgettable Eisenhower-era femme fatale: the dangerous, decadent diabolical rich girl. When Godard and Jean Seberg created the treacherous beauty Patricia in “Breathless,” they must have been thinking, at least a little, of Simmons’ Angel Face, the gorgeous girl who got slapped.

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The Film Noir File: ‘Out of the Past,’ newly out on Blu-ray, hits TCM on Thursday

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

The Film Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). All movies below are from the schedule of TCM, which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

Pick of the Week:

 Robert Mitchum falls hard for Jane Greer and, baby, he doesn’t care.


Robert Mitchum falls hard for Jane Greer and, baby, he doesn’t care.

Out of the Past” (1947, Jacques Tourneur). 2 a.m. (11 p.m.). Thursday, July 24. With Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer and Kirk Douglas. Reviewed in FNB on Dec. 12, 2010. (See Tourneur‘s “Cat People” below, on Sunday.)

Wednesday July 23

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Bullitt” (1968, Peter Yates). With Steve McQueen, Jacqueline Bisset, Robert Vaughn and Robert Duvall. Reviewed in FNB on Oct. 27, 2012.

10:15 p.m. (7:15 p.m.): “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” (1948, John Huston). With Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, Tim Holt, Alfonso Bedoya and Bruce Bennett. Reviewed in FNB on Nov. 31, 2012.

12:30 a.m. (9:30 p.m.): “Belle de Jour” (1967, Luis Bunuel). With Catherine Deneuve, Michel Piccoli, Jean Sorel and Genevieve Page. Reviewed in FNB on Aug. 8, 2013.

2:15 a.m. (11:15 p.m.): “Blowup” (1966: Michelangelo Antonioni). With David Hemmings, Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles and The Yardbirds. Reviewed in FNB on June 19, 2014.


Thursday, July 24

2 a.m. (11 p.m.): “Out of the Past” See Pick of the Week.

Metropolis posterSaturday, July 26

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Metropolis” (1927, Fritz Lang). With Brigitte Helm, Rudolf Klein-Rogge and Alfred Abel. Reviewed in FNB on May 29, 2014.

2:15 a.m. (11:15 p.m.): “Spider Baby” (1964, Jack Hill). An insane, incestuous, greed-crazed Southern family runs amok in a dilapidated, decaying mansion. One of the wildest and campiest of all the ’60s low-budget horror quickie noirs, with a plot that makes “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” look like “The Song of Bernadette.” Lon Chaney Jr., Sid Haig and Quinn K. Redeker costar.

Sunday, July 27

12:15 p.m. (9:15 a.m.): “The Ladykillers” (1955, Alexander Mackendrick) With Alec Guinness, Katie Johnson, Peter Sellers and Herbert Lom. Reviewed in FNB on July 31, 2013.

2 p.m. (11 a.m.): “Blackboard Jungle” (1955, Richard Brooks.) With Glenn Ford, Sidney Poitier, Anne Francis, and Vic Morrow. Reviewed in FNB on Apr. 18, 2013. In Memoriam: Paul Mazursky.

4 p.m. (1 p.m.): “Rebel Without a Cause” (1955, Nicholas Ray). With James Dean, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo, Dennis Hopper and Jim Backus. Reviewed in FNB on Apr. 18, 2013.

Cat People poster8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Cat People” (1942, Jacques Tourneur). Subtle, moody, gently chilling, this low-budget RKO supernatural noir, about a foreign émigré (Simone Simon) – whose soul is coveted by a coven of cat people – is a poetic suspense movie in which the horrors are suggested rather than shown. It was the first of the legendary Val Lewton-produced literate fright classics. Scripted by DeWitt Bodeen; with Kent Smith and Tom Conway.

9:30 p.m. (6:30 p.m.): “The Curse of the Cat People” (1944, Robert Wise & Gunther von Fritsch). Producer Val Lewton’s sequel to the classic “Cat People,” with the spirit of the first film’s beautiful feline victim Simone Simon returning to bedazzle the child of her bereaved ex-husband (Kent Smith). Robert Wise’s directorial debut, and a good one. (Followed at 10:45 p.m. (7:45 p.m.), by the documentary “Martin Scorsese presents Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows.”)

12:15 a.m. (9:15 p.m.): “Pandora’s Box” (1928, G. W. Pabst). With Louise Brooks, Fritz Rasp and Francis (Franz) Lederer. (Silent German Movie with music score.) Reviewed in FNB on Nov. 3, 2012.

2:45 a.m. (11:45 p.m.): “La Haine” (1995, Mathieu Kassovitz). Stylish, stark and violent black-and white drama of French juvenile delinquency in Paris and its suburban banlieues. With Vincent Cassel, Hubert Kounde and Said Taghmaoui. (In French with subtitles.)

Wednesday, July 30

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Detective Story” (1951, William Wyler). With Kirk Douglas, Eleanor Parker, William Bendix and Lee Grant. Reviewed in FNB on June 20, 2013.

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‘Red Rock West’ still rocks, 21 years later

Red Rock West posterRed Rock West/1993/Red Rock Films/98 min.

Nicolas Cage’s new movie “Joe” is being hailed as Cage’s comeback. It’s a meaty role in a dark film about desperate people doing bad things, to be sure.  But I like my degenerates a bit more clever and I kept thinking of Cage’s terrific turn in the smart and stylish neo-noir “Red Rock West.” It’s now 21 years old and I think it improves with age.

In playing Michael Williams, an ex-Marine looking for a job in a dusty Wyoming town, Cage creates an uncommonly sympathetic character. Rejected for a spot on an oil-drilling crew because of his bad leg, Michael figures he’s got nothing to lose by stopping into the Red Rock West tavern, the hub of a bustling metropolis of 200 people.

Brooding tavern-owner Wayne Brown (J.T. Walsh) mistakes Michael for a hitman known as Lyle from Dallas (damn those Texas license plates). Wayne wants his wife, Suzanne (Lara Flynn Boyle), out of his hair forever. Before Michael’s picked up a buzz, he stumbles into a quagmire of serpentine deception and murder for hire.

Since he accepted the cash, Michael gives it a go, but changes his mind when he gets an eyeful of the raven-haired, fine-boned Suzanne – a flinty, ferocious femme fatale – and hears her side of the story, including a chapter in which she wants Michael to kill Wayne. “Being married does strange things to people,” she tells him.

Nic Cage and Lara Flynn Boyle remind us of Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer.

Nic Cage and Lara Flynn Boyle remind us of Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer.

Michael hits the road but comes to a screeching halt as he nearly drives over a body, who, it turns out, is Suzanne’s ex-lover. Then the real Lyle from Dallas (the inimitable Dennis Hopper) shows up. Lyle from Dallas don’t take kindly to another man messin’ with his hard-earned hit money. Natch.

It also turns out that Wayne works two jobs – tavern owner and, gulp, town sheriff. Actually make that three – pre-Red Rock, he and Suzanne robbed a bank in Illinois for about $2 million. Suzanne don’t take kindly to anybody messin’ with her haul from the robbery so, with Michael in tow, she sets out to stake her claim, then vamoose South of the Border. But, in the end, Michael isn’t quite the slave to cash that she is and when she finally heads out of town, it’s not quite in the style she’d been planning.

Dennis Hopper plays the "real" hitman from Texas.

Dennis Hopper plays the “real” hitman from Texas.

At 98 minutes, “Red Rock West” is a taut, sexy, funny story that lingers at the right spots and lurches forward just when you were getting cozy. The scene in the graveyard where the four principals dig up bills and duke it out, then plug and pierce the night away is stellar. As they go through bullets, blades, a sword and chains, Hopper snarls, Cage seethes, and Boyle shows prowess with a pistol. Fine performances, all around.

Director John Dahl, who co-wrote the script with his brother Rick, taps 1940s film noir roots with their exploration of shifting identities, appearance vs. reality and the range of motivations that drive people to create their own moral codes. Cage’s disillusioned dreamer recalls the laconic sadness of a young Robert Mitchum, though Cage’s part doesn’t quite allow him to plumb the depths of darkness. Boyle recalls the regal beauty of Gene Tierney and the cool intensity of Jane Greer.

The story is set in a dusty Wyoming town.

The story is set in a dusty Wyoming town.

Infused with humor, the script meditates on the role that luck plays in our lives. We see that Cage has borne Fortune’s smiles and blows. At one point, upon finding his gas tank near empty, he mutters, “F’ing story of my life.”

Natives of Billings, Montana, the Dahls set the film not in a claustrophobic or hostile big city but in sunny Western climes, which work well to highlight Cage’s isolation and desperation. Country singer and actor Dwight Yoakam plays a grimy a truck driver who gives Cage a lift and Yoakam’s mournful “Thousand Miles From Nowhere” is a fitting conclusion to the film’s score. (Dahl started his career directing shorts and music videos.)

After 1989’s “Kill Me Again” and “Red Rock,” John Dahl made “The Last Seduction” in 1994 as well as “Rounders” in 1998 and “You Kill Me” in 2007. He’s also worked on many high-profile TV shows like “Breaking Bad,” “True Blood” and “Dexter.” We hope he and Nic Cage can hook up again – a slick thriller, or a jet-black TV series, perhaps? We’re waiting impatiently.

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Prescription for retro glamour: A look back at Schwab’s

Sunset b & wHeading to the West Hollywood Rite-Aid to do a little schmoozing? Not bloody likely. But, in Tinseltown’s golden age, Schwab’s Pharmacy, at 8024 Sunset Blvd., ranked as one of the city’s top spots to meet, greet, mix and mingle.

A program Saturday at the Egyptian Theatre highlighted the pivotal role Schwab’s played in Hollywood networking from the 1930s to the 1960s. Teacher/history buff Marc Chevalier delivered a photo-driven presentation, followed by a short that was filmed at Schwab’s to promote a 1946 bio-pic, “The Jolson Story,” and the exquisite movie “Sunset Blvd.” (1950, Billy Wilder), which features the drugstore in a key scene.

Chevalier started his talk with a cherchez la femme angle. The property – on the south side of Sunset Boulevard, between Laurel Avenue and Crescent Heights – first belonged to Dr. George E. Paddleford and his wife, Genevieve McKinney Toomey Teal Paddleford, a “international adventuress and love pirate,” with a string of duped husbands.

The Sunset Medical Building complex opened its doors in 1931.

The Sunset Medical Building in the 1930s. Schwab’s was to the right of the window awning (far right).

The Paddlefords owned lots 1, 2 and 29 of the Crescent Heights tract and built a mansion on lot 2. Fond of giving Dr. Paddleford’s expensive cuff links and other valuable belongings to her lovers, Genevieve drew her husband’s ire and the couple divorced around 1920. She left for Europe where she continued to live the high life, charm men, court scandal, oh and steal stuff from Ritz-Carlton hotels.

Dr. Paddleford (an associate of oil magnate Edward L. Doheny) sold the property and in 1931 architects Alvan Norstrom and Milton Anderson designed the Sunset Medical Building for developers C.H. Thomsen and W.L. Easley. The year before, for the same developers, Norstrom and Anderson designed a building directly across the street. It’s in use today as the Laugh Factory and Greenblatt’s Deli.

Schwab’s was a place to see and be seen.

Schwab’s was a place to see and be seen.

Despite the prosaic name (it became known as the Crescent Heights Shopping Center and later simply “The Corner”), the new building turned out to be a modern-day palace. Its front and side facades were clad in dark tan marble from Southern France and trimmed in rosso levanto Italian marble. (At the time, the only other commercial structure in Los Angeles that boasted so much marble was downtown’s Merritt Building from 1915.) Inside The Corner, rooms were paneled and floored in mahogany; some had terrazzo marble floors. Doctors’ and dentists’ offices were on the second level. A covered-bridge walkway allowed patients to cross from one wing to another. The back court had a 30-space parking lot.

Nearby was the Spanish-Moorish style Garden of Allah apartment complex, originally owned by actress Alla Nazimova in 1919; the Garden was torn down in 1959. Many residents from this chic residence supported businesses at The Corner.

F. Scott Fitzgerald was among the notable residents at the Garden of Allah.

F. Scott Fitzgerald was among the notable residents at the Garden of Allah.

Norstrom and Anderson’s marble stunner housed several merchants on the ground floor, including Richard Talmadge, former actor and stuntman for Douglas Fairbanks, who ran a flower shop, and the owner of the Crescent Heights Market, Ben Ruben, known for insulting his customers at no extra charge. Howard Hughes treated his girlfriends to makeovers at the beauty salon.

In 1932, the Schwab brothers (Bernard, Leon, Jack and Martin) took over a failing drugstore in the complex; they would eventually own six pharmacies. But Schwab’s on Sunset wasn’t just a place to drop off a prescription or buy toiletries. Open from 7 a.m. to midnight, the gathering spot served meals as well as soda-fountain drinks. The store had five phone booths and frequently offered automatic credit. Customers could also buy high-end liquor, tobacco, chocolate, perfume and cosmetics. There was no charge for deliveries.

Billy Wilder filmed the Schwab’s  scene at Paramount.

Billy Wilder filmed the Schwab’s scene at Paramount.

In the movie “Sunset Blvd.,” William Holden’s character, a struggling screenwriter named Joe Gillis, tells us the pharmacy is his headquarters, explaining: “That’s the way a lot of us think about Schwab’s. Kind of a combination office, coffee klatch and waiting room. Waiting, waiting for the gravy train.” (Though it would seem the ideal location shoot, Wilder had the interior recreated and filmed on a Paramount lot.)

Arguably, what made Schwab’s the place to network and nosh was the fact that journalist/actor/producer Sidney Skolsky wrote his Photoplay column “From a Stool at Schwab’s” in a second-floor office, by arrangement with the Schwab family.

Sidney Skolsky and Marilyn Monroe attend an industry function.

Sidney Skolsky and Marilyn Monroe attend an industry function.

Among Skolsky’s many talents was a knack for nicknames and he dubbed the drugstore Schwabadero’s, an allusion to the Trocadero nightclub down the street. (Even more famously, in 1934, he was the first journalist to write a story using Oscar to refer to the Academy Award.) As a producer on the 1946 movie “The Jolson Story,” it was Skolsky’s idea to shoot the after-party at Schwab’s and use the footage as a publicity short.

Robert Mitchum, Clark Gable, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Mickey Cohen, Gloria Swanson, Judy Garland, the Marx Brothers, Cesar Romero and Shelley Winters were regular Schwabadero’s customers. Marilyn Monroe, another loyal patron, reportedly left messages for Skolsky, under the name Miss Caswell. Charlie Chaplin and Ava Gardner stopped in and made their own milkshakes.

Though it’s widely thought that Lana Turner was discovered sipping a soda at Schwab’s, in fact it was at the Top Hat malt shop, several blocks east on Sunset, that in 1937, at age 16, she attracted the attention of Hollywood Reporter publisher William Wilkerson.

Debunking the myth: Lana Turner was discovered at a malt shop down the street from Schwab’s.

Lana Turner was discovered at a malt shop down the street from Schwab’s.

By the time Schwab’s had its closeup in “Sunset Blvd.,” Russian immigrant/Beverly Hills businessman Martin Belousoff owned the property. In 1949, Googie’s coffee shop, designed by architect John Lautner in Space Age/midcentury modern style, was built nearby and served customers such as James Dean, Marlon Brando and beat-generation poets. (Googie’s lasted until 1989.)

Compared with Googie’s, Schwab’s looked passé and in 1955 Belousoff decided to remodel inside and out, commissioning architects Louis Armet and Eldon Davis for the job. But not long after Schwab’s updated, new Sunset Strip venues were opening up and gaining popularity with aspiring stars and ’60s hipsters.

Schwab’s, which had been in business for 50 years and earned worldwide fame as a Hollywood hive of activity, closed its doors in 1983 and was torn down in 1988. But it remains Hollyood’s most famous drugstore – a legendary place to sip sodas, schmooze, spot stars and, like many a prospective Lana Turner, strut your stuff.

Schwab's was open from 7 a.m. to midnight.

Schwab’s was open from 7 a.m. to midnight.

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The Noir File: Wilder’s dark favorite is an American nightmare

By Mike Wilmington and Film Noir Blonde

The Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir from the schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

PICK OF THE WEEK

Ace in the Hole” (1951, Billy Wilder). Friday, May 17, 8 p.m. (5 p.m.).

Kirk Douglas plays Chuck Tatum, a star reporter exiled from his big-city paper.

In the Golden Age of Hollywood and film noir, no one was better than Kirk Douglas at playing anti heroes, heels and villains. In movies like “Champion,” “The Bad and the Beautiful,” “I Walk Alone” and “Out of the Past,” he channeled the amoral climber who knifes you with a smile, or steps on almost everyone on his way to the top. The best (or worst) of all Douglas’s movie heels is Chuck Tatum in Billy Wilder’s “Ace in the Hole” – a slick-operator star newspaper reporter who messes up, gets exiled from his big-city paper and is now stuck in Albuquerque, N.M., in a desert dead-end.

When Chuck learns of a local miner named Leo Mimosa trapped in a cave-in in a Native American holy area, he sees a chance to ratchet up the drama and revive his career. A master manipulator, Chuck talks Leo and his rescuers into taking a longer, more dangerous escape route, then plays the story to the hilt, planning to sell it to the big outlets back east. With Leo’s life on the line and the clock ticking, this master of hype and hoopla turns the story into a circus and the circus into a nightmare.

A master manipulator, Chuck ratchets up the drama in an effort to revive his career.

Chuck Tatum, brought to stinging life by Douglas, was the brainchild of Billy Wilder, who had just dissolved his decades-long writing partnership with Charles Brackett after their hit, “Sunset Blvd.” Walter Newman, who later wrote “The Man with the Golden Arm” and “Cat Ballou,” was one of Wilder’s new co-writers and, though they never collaborated again, Wilder must have liked some of what they did.

Many times, Wilder cited “Ace in the Hole” as one of his favorites among his films, “the runt of my litter” as he affectionately called it. The runt is one of the darkest of all Wilder’s films: a portrait of American society, culture and media, a ruthless exposé of Tatum and his fellow opportunists.

The more conservative Brackett (who had refused to work with Wilder on “Double Indemnity”) had been something of a brake on Billy’s cynicism, which is fully unleashed here. Perhaps Brackett had a point. Many critics and audiences in 1951 didn’t much care for the acrid darkness and lacerating social indictment of Wilder’s “Ace in the Hole,” which was such a flop that it had to be pulled and re-released as “The Big Carnival.”

It didn’t come to be regarded as a classic of American cinema and social criticism until years later. Maybe the picture was just too noir for ’50s moviegoers. But it’s not too noir for us.

Friday, May 17

3 p.m. (12 p.m.): “Where Danger Lives” (1953, John Farrow). Love on the run, with infatuated Bob Mitchum falling for dangerous Faith Domergue, and the two of them heading for Mexico. A standard but engrossing “femme fatale” noir, from the director of “The Big Clock.”

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Ace in the Hole” (1951, Billy Wilder). See PICK OF THE WEEK.

2 a.m. (11 p.m.): “Our Man in Havana” (1960, Carol Reed). The third of the three film thriller collaborations between writer Graham Greene and director Carol Reed. (The others are “The Third Man” and “The Fallen Idol.”) It’s also the least admired by critics, and the team’s only comedy, with Alec Guinness playing a British vacuum cleaner salesman in Cuba inexplicably involved in a batty spy intrigue. The crack cast also includes Maureen O’Hara, Ralph Richardson, Ernie Kovacs, Noel Coward and Burl Ives.

Joan Crawford and Cliff Robertson star in “Autumn Leaves.”

4 a.m. (1 a.m.): “Autumn Leaves” (1956, Robert Aldrich.) With Joan Crawford, Cliff Robertson and Vera Miles. Reviewed on FNB December 4, 2012.

Sunday, May 19

12 p.m. (9 p.m.): “Johnny O’Clock” (1947, Robert Rossen). Rossen’s directorial debut: a solid noir with a gambling backdrop and a vintage tough Dick Powell performance.

6 p.m. (3 p.m.): “Leave Her to Heaven” (1945, John M. Stahl). With Gene Tierney, Cornel Wilde, Jeanne Crain and Vincent Price. Reviewed on FNB April 18, 2013.

3 p.m. (12 p.m.): “Night Must Fall” (1937, Richard Thorpe). Emlyn Williams’ famed suspense play about a seductive young psycho (Robert Montgomery) and his rich lady target (Dame May Whitty) is given a plush MGM treatment. With Rosalind Russell. [Read more...]

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Film noir flourishes at TCM film festival in Hollywood

Grauman’s Chinese Theatre was a prime location at the TCM fest. Photo by John Nowak

From Marie Windsor’s character in “The Killing” telling her wounded husband (played by Elisha Cook, Jr.) to cab to the hospital because she doesn’t feel like calling an ambulance to Grace Kelly fending off her attacker and foiling the eponymous plot in “Dial M for Murder,” on-screen femmes fatales claimed their power at the TCM Classic Film Festival April 25-28 in Hollywood.

Marie Windsor

The film noir slate was particularly rich as was the experience of seeing these film on the big screen – the lighting, the compositions, the close-ups all popped in a way that just doesn’t happen when you watch these titles on TV. Additionally, the festival does a splendid job of finding guests to introduce the films.

At Thursday’s screening of “The Killing,” actress Coleen Gray shared memories of working with director Stanley Kubrick on what would turn out to be his break-though movie. “I knew he was good,” she said. “The cast is wonderful. The story, the director and the actors are in tune. And look at the cutting – it was cut to create a masterpiece. You go and see it and you bow to Mr. Kubrick.” She added that Kubrick spent much of his directorial energy working with Marie Windsor on her hard-as-nails dame Sherry Peatty.

There was film noir aplenty at the TCM festival as well as special guests, panels, a poolside screening and parties. Photo by Edward M. Pio Roda

Fans of Ms. Windsor’s got another chance to connect with her at Friday’s screening of “The Narrow Margin.” The special guest was actress Jacqueline White. Also during that time slot producer Stanley Rubin reminisced about Marilyn Monroe, Robert Mitchum and Otto Preminger before a showing of 1954’s “River of No Return,” a stunning example of CinemaScope’s capabilities.

“[Marilyn] and Otto didn’t like each other and so we became very friendly. She was a perfect lady,” he said, adding that she was friendly and professional with Mitchum as well.

Robert Mitchum and Marilyn Monroe in “River of No Return.”

Watching Monroe and Mitchum, at the height of their physical radiance in this picture, ignited in me a newfound passion for Westerns. (Believe me, this is quite a feat.)

It’s always a toss-up when deciding between a beloved classic and a little-screened rarity. We at FNB decided to mix it up a little and forgo “Notorious,” which I often liken to a glass of Veuve Clicquot, for the chance to see a 1956 Jean Gabin black comedy “La Traversée de Paris.” Gabin is always good, but the film is uneven, without much tension or humor, a bit like a flabby claret.

A much better rare treat was the definitive British film noir “It Always Rains on Sunday,” (1947, Robert Hamer), set in London’s East End, featuring a Jewish family and starring John McCallum as prison escapee Tommy Swann and tough yet oddly dainty Googie Withers as his ex-gf. The Film Noir Foundation’s Eddie Muller introduced the film, noting that it was less a crime flick than an effective portrayal of the plight of the poor and downtrodden.

We watched this with our friend Debra Levine of artsmeme.com. Our verdict: It’s a good, engaging film but what makes it great is the sleek, striking cinematography. “Tommy made some poor choices,” Ms. Levine overheard someone saying as we left the theater. Aah, but we all know that “choice” is but a futile joke in the world of film noir!

Eva Marie Saint discussed “On the Waterfront” with Bob Osborne on Friday night. Photo by John Nowak

Another Friday highlight: the lovely and gracious Eva Marie Saint discussing “On the Waterfront.”

The next morning, early birds were rewarded with a talk by Polly Bergen at the screening of “Cape Fear,” one of Robert Mitchum’s most menacing roles. Later-risers could head to the Egyptian Theatre for the West Coast restoration premiere of 1929’s “The Donovan Affair” with live actors (from Bruce Goldstein and company) and sound effects to recreate the lost soundtrack.

Eddie Muller interviewed Susan Ray at the screening of “They Live by Night.” Photo by John Nowak

Next up was a film noir must-see: “They Live by Night” (1949, Nicholas Ray), the quintessential young-lovers-on-the-run story, with an appearance by his widow Susan Ray and introduction by Eddie Muller. Commenting on Ray’s exploratory directing style, she said: “He did not go in with a preconceived idea of what should happen in a scene. He would set it up, light a fuse and watch. He would prod or provoke if necessary. He didn’t impose truth, he looked for it.”

And on Ray’s interest in telling the stories of young people, often loners or societal outcasts, she noted: “He saw the juice, potential, openness and flexibility of youth and he loved it.” Nick Ray’s gift as a visual poet is never more apparent than when you see “They Live by Night” on the big screen.

Continuing the noir mood was “Tall Target” (1951, Anthony Mann), a period noir, starring Dick Powell, Paula Raymond and Ruby Dee, based on an actual plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln before he could take the oath office in 1861. Film historian Donald Bogle gave an insightful introduction.

Bob Osborne chats with Ann Blyth before Saturday night’s screening of “Mildred Pierce.” Photo by John Nowak

Then it was back to the Egyptian, where the line for “Mildred Pierce,” snaked down a busy side street of Hollywood Boulevard. Special guest actress Ann Blyth said of Joan Crawford, the film’s mega-star: “I have nothing but wonderful memories of her. She was kind to me during the making of the movie and she was kind to me for many years after.”

Popcorn, Coke, Raisinets and watching Crawford pull out all the shoulder-padded stops – what more could a noirista wish for?

Sunday morning kicked off with a choice between “Badlands,” “Gilda,” or sleeping in a bit and we hit snooze. Sorry. They don’t call me Lazy Legs for nothing. Our first movie was 1973’s “Scarecrow,” starring Al Pacino and Gene Hackman – it was one of the best and most resonant films we’ve seen in a long time. The acting is tremendous in this great-looking film, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. Director Jerry Schatzberg discussed his work in a pre-film chat with Leonard Maltin.

Anthony Dawson and Grace Kelly in “Dial M for Murder.”

Afterward, we managed to catch the very noirish “Safe in Hell” (1931, William Wellman), starring Dorothy Mackaill as a streetwise blonde who holds her own among a slew of unsavory men while she’s hiding out in the Caribbean. Donald Bogle introduced the movie and William Wellman, Jr. answered questions afterward.

A great way to wrap up the fest, before heading to the after-party at the Roosevelt Hotel, was a 3-D presentation of “Dial M for Murder.” Leonard Maltin and the always-entertaining actor-producer-director Norman Lloyd, 98, discussed 3-D and the working methods of Alfred Hitchcock. This Hitchcock gem, a perfect example of his subversive casting, is often underrated so we particularly enjoyed seeing it; we noticed that just about every seat was taken.

Hats off to TCM for another superb film festival! The staff does an excellent job running every aspect of this event and it is much appreciated.

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The Noir File: Mitchum and Greer sizzle in ‘Out of the Past’

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

The Noir File is FNB’s guide to pre-noir, classic noir and neo-noir from the schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

PICK OF THE WEEK

Jane Greer and Robert Mitchum star in “Out of the Past.”

Out of the Past” (1947, Jacques Tourneur). Tuesday, May 7; 11:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.) With Robert Mitchum, Kirk Douglas and Jane Greer. As famed critic James Agee put it: “Robert Mitchum is so sleepily self-confident with the women that when he slopes into clinches you expect him to snore in their faces.”

While none of my Robert Mitchum fantasies involve snoring, I can’t say I’d kick him out of bed just for a few noisy ZZZs. One of Mitchum’s finest vehicles is “Out of the Past” (1947) by French-born director Jacques Tourneur.

If I happened to meet someone who wanted to know film noir and only had 97 minutes to live, this is the film I’d recommend. But pay close attention, little dying chum, because there are plot twists aplenty. Read the rest of the review here.

Thursday, May 2

2 p.m. (11 a.m.): “The Locket” (1946, John Brahm). Flashbacks within flashbacks adorn this stylish psychological noir about a troubled seductress (Laraine Day). With Robert Mitchum and Brian Aherne.

3:30 p.m. (12:30 p.m.): “Macao” (1952, Josef von Sternberg & Nicholas Ray). Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell strike sultry sparks in this exotic thriller from Howard Hughes’ RKO. Directed by Josef Von Sternberg, with uncredited reshooting by Nick Ray. Co-starring Gloria Grahame, William Bendix and Thomas Gomez.

Saturday, May 4

7:30 a.m. (4:30 a.m.): “The Gangster” (1947, Gordon Wiles). An underrated, unjustly neglected crime drama about a gangster (Barry Sullivan) at twilight. The pungent atmosphere, story and characters come from screenwriter/novelist Daniel Fuchs’ superb Brooklyn novel “Low Company.” With Akim Tamiroff, John Ireland, Shelley Winters and Harry Morgan.

Marlon Brando

2 p.m. (11 a.m.): “Ocean’s Eleven” (1960, Lewis Milestone). Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop – the gang of elite show biz chums variously known as The Clan, The Rat Pack and The Summit – pull a super-heist in Las Vegas. (Shirley MacLaine does a cameo.) OK, but it could have used more songs. (Dino and Sammy sing; Frank doesn’t.)

6:30 p.m. (3:30 p.m.): “The Wild One” (1953, Laslo Benedek). One of Marlon Brando’s most iconic performances – as mumbling, charismatic motorcycle gang leader Johnny – came in this pungent noir about a chopper-riding wild bunch taking over a small California city. Loosely based on a true story, it’s the source of this memorable exchange: Girl in bar: “What are you rebelling against?” Brando: “What have you got?” With Mary Murphy, Robert Keith and, as the wildest one of all, Lee Marvin. [Read more...]

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Merry Christmas!

I hope your holidays are joyous and that Santa Baby showered you with lovely gifts and rapt attention. Here are a few film favorites of the season. Enjoy!

“Holiday Affair” from 1949 stars Robert Mitchum and Janet Leigh. It’s not film noir but Mitchum lends his bad-boy charm nonetheless. Don Hartman directs.

James Stewart co-stars with the enchanting Kim Novak in 1958′s “Bell, Book and Candle,” directed by Richard Quine. Of course, they both bow to the real star, Siamese kitty Pyewacket.

Film Noir Blonde reveals Pyewacket’s offscreen capers here.

The dark dream sequence in Frank Capra’s 1946 Christmas classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” is pure film noir.

Michael Wilmington reviews “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

And, in case you missed it earlier this month, FNB wrote about “Lady in the Lake,” an experimental film noir with a Christmas setting.

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The Noir File: All noir, all day, with Stanwyck and Mitchum

Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell star in “His Kind of Woman.”

By Michael Wilmington & Film Noir Blonde

The Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir on cable TV. All movies below are from the schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard). This month, TCM pays tribute to one of the great noir dames, Barbara “Missy” Stanwyck. All the Stanwyck film noirs are on Wednesday (Film Noir Day) and Thursday. Robert Mitchum gets a noir tribute on Wednesday too.

PICK OF THE WEEK

Double Indemnity” (1944, Billy Wilder). Wednesday, Dec. 19, 8 p.m. (5 p.m.). “Yes, I killed him. I killed him for money. And a woman. And I didn’t get the money and I didn’t get the woman. Pretty, isn’t it?” — Walter Neff in “Double Indemnity.”

Sometime before dawn. A dying man, the bullet still in his gut, staggers into his shadowy insurance company office, slumps in a chair, picks up the Dictaphone receiver, and begins to talk. It’s a confession of murder, probably the greatest confession in the history of film noir. The dying man is Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray), a bright, handsome, good-natured insurance salesman who’s sold one policy too many.

He sold it to the husband of Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) – the sexiest, blackest hearted dame who ever lit up a cigarette, slipped on (or off) an ankle bracelet, or took out a double indemnity insurance policy on her sap of a husband, prepared by her sap of a salesman/lover. The confession is to his best friend, “hot potato” claims investigator Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson). That hurts as much as the bullet. But it doesn’t really matter. There’s not much time left to tell the story. And it’s a hell of a story…

“Double Indemnity” – directed by Billy Wilder, scripted by Wilder and Raymond Chandler from James M. Cain’s great, knife-sharp novel, photographed by John Seitz, with music by Miklos Rozsa – is the pinnacle of film noir. There simply is no better, deeper, darker noir than this one.

Wednesday, Dec. 19

BARBARA STANWYCK AND ROBERT MITCHUM NOIR DAY

Note: For entries that don’t have descriptions, use the search bar on the upper-right side of this page to find previous reviews.

6 a.m. (3 a.m.) “Undercurrent” (Vincente Minnelli, 1946). Mitchum untangles repressions with Katharine Hepburn and Robert Taylor.

8:30 a.m. (5:30 a.m.): “Where Danger Lives” (John Farrow, 1950). Mitchum on the run with psycho flirt Faith Domergue.

10 a.m. (7 a.m.): “His Kind of Woman” (John Farrow, 1951). Mitchum and Jane Russell live it up at a pleasure spot hideaway with mobster Raymond Burr.

12:15 p.m. (9:15 a.m.): “My Forbidden Past” (Robert Stevenson, 1951). Mitchum messes up Ava Gardner and Melvyn Douglas.

1:30 p.m. (10:30 a.m.): “Angel Face” (Otto Preminger, 1953). A Preminger classic with Mitchum and Jean Simmons.

3:15 p.m. (12:15 p.m.): “Second Chance” (Rudolph Maté, 1953). More Mexican high jinks with Mitchum, Linda Darnell and Jack Palance.

10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers” (Lewis Milestone, 1946).

12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “Sorry, Wrong Number” (Anatole Litvak, 1948). Tense movie adaptation of the famed Lucille Fletcher radio play about an invalid woman (Stanwyck) terrorized by phone calls.

1:45 a.m. (10:45 p.m.): “Clash by Night” (Fritz Lang, 1952).

3:45 a.m. (12:45 a.m.): “Jeopardy” (John Sturges, 1953).

5 a.m. (2 a.m.): “Witness to Murder” (Roy Rowland, 1954). Did Stanwyck witness a murder? George Sanders and Gary Merrill wonder.

Thursday, Dec. 20

6:30 a.m. (3:30 a.m.): “Crime of Passion” (Gerd Oswald, 1957).

8 a.m. (5 a.m.): “Barbara Stanwyck: Fire and Desire” (Richard Schickel, 1991). Dick Schickel documentary on Stanwyck’s life and career. With Sally Field.

9 a.m. (6 a.m.): “The Two Mrs. Carrolls” (Peter Godfrey, 1947).

Saturday, Dec. 22

2:15 a.m. (11:15 p.m.): “Anatomy of a Murder” (Otto Preminger, 1959).

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Moving ‘Rust and Bone’ ranks as one of the year’s best films

Rust and Bone/2012/Sony Pictures Classics/120 min.

Streetwise and sublime, “Rust and Bone” is a contemporary melodrama beautifully told. In director and co-writer Jacques Audiard’s capable hands, what could have been a preposterous and sappy saga is human and moving.

Bookended from a child’s point of view, the movie opens with fragments of a dream through which we enter a world marked by darkness and brutality as well as by joy and redemption. The child here is 5-year-old Sam (Armand Verdure) who travels by train with his father Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) to Antibes, France. Ali scavenges among other passengers’ discarded food so that the two can eat.

In Antibes, they move in with Ali’s sister Anna (Corinne Masiero). Ali is able to find a job as a bouncer at a disco and later as a security guard and kickboxing combatant. One night at the disco, Ali encounters hauntingly seductive tough lady Stéphanie (Marion Cotillard), wiping blood from her face, as she’s leaving the place. Alarmed, Ali accompanies her home and, through their brief, stilted conversation, learns that she works as an orca whale trainer at Marineland. Ali also finds that she has a boyfriend but leaves his number anyway.

The next time he hears from Stéphanie, she reveals shocking news: she is confined to a wheelchair, having lost her legs in a horrific accident with a whale during a Marineland performance. The two begin a friendship, devoid of pity on his part, that sustains them as she tries to piece her life together again and as he struggles with fatherhood and finding true intimacy.

“What came first was the desire to tell a love story,” says Audiard, at a recent press conference in Beverly Hills. He and co-writer Thomas Bidegain added the love-story element to the foundation provided by Canadian author Craig Davidson’s collection of short stories. (Audiard’s other films include “A Prophet,” The Beat That My Heart Skipped,” and “Read My Lips.” He is the son of screenwriter/director/actor Michel Audiard.)

Subtle performances and stark, poetic imagery temper the melodrama of “Rust and Bone.” Audiard says he and cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine talked about the films of Lon Chaney, fairground films of the Great Depression, and especially Charles Laughton’s great film noir “The Night of the Hunter,” which begins with a father being arrested in front of his children because he has stolen money in order to feed them.

Robert Mitchum plays the sinister preacher in “The Night of the Hunter.”

There’s also an homage to Robert Mitchum’s love/hate hand tattoos from “Hunter.”

“Rust and Bone” seems a natural for Oscar nominations, particularly the work of Schoenaerts and Cotillard. (She won Best Actress for her role as Édith Piaf in “La Vie en Rose” from 2007.) The actors’ naturalness and understatement lend realness and dignity to the extreme, sometimes frightening, situations Ali and Stéphanie find themselves in.

Indeed, the characters themselves are unusual and complex. Says Cotillard: “I read the script and at the end Stéphanie was still a mystery… a mystery that was not to be solved because it was part of who she was.”

As shooting progressed, Cotillard says she came to see Stéphanie as a cowboy. “She turned anger into power. That’s a cowboy, right?”

“Rust and Bone” opens today in New York and LA.

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